October 18, 2017
City Portrait: León
The city of León is often overlooked as a Spanish destination, which may add to its appeal for the travellers who do arrive there. Its architecture tells a centuries-long story of rich history, which is topped off with a lively energy and many modern attractions. Wrap this in green waves of natural beauty, like the Picos de Europa National Park or the unique landscapes of Las Médulas, and it becomes clear that this northwestern city deserves a visit!
Architecture and history
León was founded in the 1st century AD as a Roman encampment, and fell briefly under Moorish rule in the 10th century before it reached its full glory as the capital of the Kingdom of Leon, from the 10th to the 12th centuries. During this medieval period, León was an important stop on the Way of Saint James for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela, as it still is today. The 16th century monastery where pilgrims rested has since been elegantly converted into a luxurious hotel, with its original charm fully intact.
Of course, this Parador hotel is only one of many stunning historic buildings preserved in León. Most notably, within the ancient Roman walls are the two jewels of the city: the Cathedral and Basilica of San Isidro. The most stunning features of the gothic Cathedral are the 1,800 square meters of stained-glass windows, while the Basilica of San Isidro is one of the most significant sites in all of Europe. Within its thick walls are a series of frescoes from the 12th century, which decorate the underground crypt of the Royal Pantheon with their original colors. The Basilica museum is also worth a visit, and conserves an archive of codices, incunabula and a Visigothic Bible, as well as a prestigious collection of medieval art.
León has a rich history, but the city is also full of modern attractions, like the interactive Modern Art Museum, with its multi-colored facade. It is famous for its cuisine, and hidden among the city’s charming cobblestone streets are lively little tapas restaurants that are perfect for sampling the diversity of regional ingredients. Finer restaurants serve a wide range of specialties, including the famous botillo stuffed meat dish, accompanied by wines from the region of El Bierzo.
Beyond the city lie the stunning landscapes of the greater region of Castile- León. To the northwest, travellers can enjoy hiking, cycling and horseback riding in the Picos de Europa National Park. The Cares Gorge and the narrow mountain pass of Los Beyos are two of the most breathtaking views of the Cantabrian mountain range. Meanwhile, the central mountains of León are home to the winter resort of San Isidro, in an area dotted by hundreds of caves with hidden stalagmites, stalactites, lakes and waterfalls. Picturesque mountain villages such as Caín and Posada de Valdeón appear in the valleys and beech forests, and are perfect for experiencing quaint country hotels and traditional cuisine.
Visiting León with your group
With so much to do, you’ll have a difficult time choosing your agenda! Contact us today to make the perfect plan for your tour group.